Training in Ethiopia

August 2016 Bingham Academy, Addis Ababa

A long flight from London Gatwick to Addis Ababa via Dubai brought me to Bingham Academy, a mission school in the heart of the bustling city. It was rainy season. Proper rain. Can’t see the roads kind of rain. For three months of the year, the quality of road surface gradually deteriorates and large holes are commonplace. The journey to the school was bumpy, slightly concerning but nevertheless eye-opening and entertaining.

The school is set within a busy market district of the city within a walled compound. A guarded gate provides entry. The buildings were a mixture of concrete and corrugated iron roofing with polished wooden floors and spaces in the walls for a select group of rodents, and newer buildings with offices and well-lit classrooms. The vultures flying overhead were interested in the local abattoir located just round the corner. The heavy humidity meant a variety of new smells were hanging in the air.

Brad Adams, Director of Bingham Academy showed me around. I had a little apartment within the main school building. Brad described how the teachers were sponsored by their local churches to teach children of missionaries working in the country. Most would raise tens of thousands of pounds to fulfil their calling to work in this fascinating country. Many teachers came with their families, with a long term commitment. Some were young Christians, wanting to start a lifelong career of service.   I got settled and then went to my first hosts for dinner. We chatted over spaghetti about faith and service, teaching and commitment and the Olympics.

Monday was the first of two training days for over fifty staff. We looked at differentiation and assessment for learning. Techniques for personalising learning and getting the best out of individuals. A great deal of engagement from participants helped along with some chocolate and some Haribo love. Dinner was hosted by an English couple, one a GP responsible for looking after the teachers, the other staff and the missionaries. Bizarrely, he was also my late cousin’s GP back in St.Albans in another life. Small world. Shepherd’s Pie, apple crumble and a bottle of local beer to wet the whistle was welcomed heartily. We talked about drones and how small the world was.

Tuesday was a day for Active Learning. We danced, sang and played. Lots of ideas for engaging learners. Maximum participation and excellent feedback on the day. We had a debate, we had trust games, team building skills, science experiments and lots of discussion about effective teaching. A good day.

My last evening was hosted by Shane and Naomi. An Australian couple. Both teachers, who had brought their four children with them for the long game. Strong in faith and full of hope and optimism yet painfully realistic about the challenges facing the people of the local area. Naomi had provided outreach to groups and families, supporting them to overcome poverty, prostitution, and lack of hope. A chance to refit a steel roof for a family of eight brought tears of joy to everyone and fortified links with the local community.

We sampled local food that evening washed down with local beer and the best coffee I have ever had. We were joined by three of Shane’s children who all delved into the ‘njeera’. They loved their days at school and were passionate about wanting to stay there and finish with good qualifications. We chatted that night about life, kids, fishing and the lemons that come our way occasionally. Lovely lovely people.

My route home was via an ancient monument on Entoto and a flying visit to see Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis to her friends) which was a real treat. I was fascinated by the culture, the people, the history, and how they make their living. It is undoubtedly tough out there but people seem genuinely happy even when it’s raining. The flight home was filled with Ethiopian girls looking for work in the bright lights of Dubai. Housemaids, cleaners, domestics perhaps. Very few of them had been on a plane before. They struggled to familiarise themselves with airline toilets, food and drink choices and general etiquette on a plane but who could blame them.

On reflection, I would love to work with Bingham Academy again, if only to be in a place where character, commitment and faith are valued above all else. It was a collection of motivated teachers wanting to give their very best. I was inspired.

The building and surrounding walls have taken a battering in the last week as a result of torrential downpours. The school is funded by charity donations. If you have read this far and would like to help they can be found on Facebook (here) and a link to a fundraising page is here https://rceinternational.webconnex.com/43000

Training was provided by Dragonfly Training Ltd who bring hands-on practical courses to schools across the planet.

 

Blended Learning Approaches in Science

I was delighted to be invited to present at the Education Show this month in Birmingham in the Maths and Science Theatre. I based my presentation around the use of IntoScience in my classroom and how it enhances practical elements of science teaching. IntoScience is fairly new on the science noticeboard but I have been fortunate enough to run a few trials with my year 7 and 8 students over the last 6 months.

I have found IntoScience to be easy to use, intuitive and most certainly engaging on many different levels. I explained in my presentation that ‘blended learning approaches’ are important in the modern classroom because that’s where students are at. It is where they will be in two, five and ten years time. Allowing them to manipulate technology and use it to enhance their learning is crucial.

The ‘virtual world’ that IntoScience provides brings a natural safety net for students to make mistakes and take risks. How else could you run car crash tests at 100 km/h or create your own planets in a goldilocks zone? IntoScience provides a range of virtual investigations that just can’t be done in most classrooms. The other major advantage is that students can work with IntoScience at home on their own devices in their own time. This ‘flipped’ model means students return to the classroom and develop a deeper understanding having reviewed the content in their own time. Persisting with this model has brought great rewards to students in my classroom. They are used to working on projects at home and they come to lessons well prepared (training essential!).

These are a few screenshots from the Crash Test Dummies activity in the Familiar Forces Topic. I can’t replicate this in the classroom (safely!). What I can do is introduce familiar forces in a practical way using film canister ‘rockets’ and balloons with some ideas about balanced and unbalanced forces, then students use IntoScience to explore. They can collect data, interpret results, analyse them using graphs, make predictions and suggest further investigations. They can do this either in the classroom on a set of tablets or they can do it at home. The best bit is that I can see their answers, suggest improvements and track their progress through a reporting tool. I can also compare with other classes to see where they are up to.

These activities are principally aimed at KS3 but the coverage of these activities against KS2 National Curriculum outcomes is excellent. They also support revision and consolidation at KS4. Each set of activities contains a ‘mid’ and ‘end challenge which tests their understanding as they go. Again, I can track their progress and identify areas of strength and weakness.

There is also a range of ‘locations’ within the application that take students (in the form of their personalised avatar) around an Asian woodland, exploring biodiversity, an Observatory, exploring the solar system and a Monorail, where they fix things to get the station up and running again. The wow factor is in the final ‘location’ which is a true-to-life replica of the Jenolan Caves (a must-see, field trip staple in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales). In the caves, students can explore and collect ‘inquiry points’ as they investigate humidity, temperature and oxygen levels inside the caves. The opportunities for students to explore new environments are numerous.

My presentation also referred to ‘The 3rd Degree’. This is an absolute winner with the students. They can play each other in real time as they try to score points with their science knowledge. There are four levels of difficulty: easy, medium, hard and extreme. Answering questions correctly unlocks higher point questions. Students have 90 seconds to do their best and beat any opponent that might be in the same game. They could end up playing a live game with students from another school too!

In summary, IntoScience is an essential part of my Year 8 planning. This year group require careful planning – they are just at that age – and I have two groups with a majority of activity thirsty boys. These activities and the level of competition and engagement they offer are crucial to successful outcomes.

Immerse yourself in Science

“Take high quality science content and put it into a 4D adventure world and you’ve got students hooked.”

Our school have recently signed up for a trial of IntoScience. It takes students on a fantastic journey through a range of challenging and varied realms and scientific concepts. Once logged in the students create their own avatar with brilliant graphics controls and a plethora of options: ecologist, astronomer, chemist or physicist. A neat little backpack for gadgets collected along the way is a must-have accessory. Your super-scientist now enters the Research Lab and starts their quest for Inquiry Points. Game on!

We run a three year Key Stage 4, so we are looking to squeeze content and engagement into two years of Key Stage 3. Our concern was the dip in engagement and interest towards the end of Year 7. They had settled in, discovered the joys of chemistry and Bunsen burners and were heading into statistically the least productive year of their secondary education. So IntoScience fits perfectly into our plans. Year 8 are the pilot group. Year 7 will love it too. We will do a quick impact assessment at the beginning and at the end of the year.

The teacher’s point of view is pretty cool too. There are quizzes and tasks and student responses can be observed, recorded and responded to in real time. Don’t forget some of the top game changers from the Sutton Trust and Prof. John Hattie:feedback, homework and metacognition. Throw in a bit of Digital Technology and your value for money just keeps growing.

There are good links to the revised Key Stage 3 National Curriculum for England and Wales and these will continue to be developed but the content has a predominantly Australian feel about it. IntoScience has hopped its way over from the land down under and is another gem from the creators of Mathletics, Spellodrome and Reading Eggs. 3P Learning are aiming to bring regular updates to the service with new features and interactive activities; the latest one is an electricity activity with students needing to fix a monorail.

We are looking to augment our curriculum, not replace it and this will enable high levels of engagement and extend it beyond the classroom. Our regular practical work will continue. It’s excellent enrichment and we are looking forward to getting to grips with more challenges in the new term.

We will keep you updated with progress!

http://www.intoscience.com/uk/

Music4Learning #5

“Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not.”

Wellbeing is underrated. So many people pay little attention to their own or others. Hardworking teachers and students crashing and burning their way through an academic week means there is little left for anyone else come the weekend. Teachers are victims of their own regime. The timetable creates a Pavlovian phenomenon of knowing exactly what you are doing and when. But this hamster wheel is where we lose the ‘why’ of teaching.

Let’s refocus on the ‘why’ then. Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not. We nurture, guide and applaud young people. We push and pull, cajole and coax and equip brave young minds with resilience and tenacity. To survive this rollercoaster I need time to look after myself and my students. I need to know when I am pushing them too far. I use the music from I Can Teach to ‘chill out’. Generally, with no lyrics, the music allows me to refocus, to reflect and calm before the next onslaught. Try it before that ‘hard to teach’ class arrives. The effect is not short-lived. My favourite track in Chill Out has to be La Femme d’Argent by Air. You can almost feel the waves lapping around you and a gentle sea breeze keeping you nicely chilled. Follow this up with Homebase by dZihan and Kamien and you are in a different place – a different space. Northern Lights by Lux is delicious in its simplicity. You can melt away in this music.

So, you’ve tried the therapeutic self-awareness route and you are now confidently going to try it on that class of 8 year olds or 13 years olds that have bounced in after break. It works. It creates a calm, peaceful and purposeful atmosphere. It physically changes the chemical balance of hormones in the body. Calm teacher, calm class of learners. Greater focus means improved productivity and greater confidence. ‘Chill Out‘ does not mean ‘Doze Off’. There is an intrinsic purpose to this choice of music. It works.

ASAP Science: The Scientific Power of Music (2:00)

“More of the brain is involved in perception and response to music than to language or anything else.” – Oliver Sacks

Lastly, if you like the academic rigour behind all of this then check out Oliver Sacks – Tales of Music and the Brain. His site is here. Worth a good look.

Music4Learning #2

A gruesome eye dissection in class always grabs most students attention. Even the ones that are covering their own are fascinated and can’t resist a peak. Give a class a set of scalpels and one beady sheep eyeball between two would be opticians and let them go for it. Now the music: I Can See Clearly Now by Jonny Nash.

“I can see clearly now the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…..”

I sometimes go for the blindingly obvious. This is an example. Another might beSpeed of Sound by Coldplay during part of a lesson on sound. I used Around the World by Daft Punk with an animation on the Carbon Cycle. Jaws by John Williamscould be used for all sorts of things but I used it whilst studying classification of sharks with an Arkive resource. There’s always a chance to play Celebration by Kool and the Gang, even it’s just for 10 seconds. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynard Skynard at the end of a day is always a good note to leave on. All these pieces of music are powerful and instantly recognisable to most. These are all in the ‘Enjoy‘ section of I Can Teach. They are there to enjoy and have some fun with.

So what’s the link with teaching and learning? Learning is a multi-sensory, cognitive and emotional process – a journey. Memories linked to music are generally more powerful and more detailed. Given the neuroplasticity of the brain and the fact that emotions are tagged in our most primitive limbic system, we naturally learn better when we are engaged, happy and motivated. So if learning is considerably enhanced by the use of music, then teaching using it must be fun too. It draws teachers into creative and collaborative planning (use Google Apps to do this too!) and allows engagement with students on a much more multicellular and organic level.

Two observations here:

  • The choice of music can be down to students or teachers. Choice often brings devolved trust and confidence. If it’s innocuous background then it may not matter.
  • This music is designed to enhance the learning process. There is strong evidence to show that during recall, silence is better.

All our music is licensed. You stream it and use it as you wish. In Music4Learning #3 I will give you some ideas about using powerful and emotive music from the ‘Think‘ section of I Can Teach.

Enjoy!

Music4Learning #1

Tips for using Music4Learning. Research attachments too.

Do cows produce more milk when they listen to music? Research suggests they do. Do shoppers spend more money when particular types of music are played? Some businesses think they do. Do students learn better when music is playing? There’s a great deal of research to suggest it has a significant impact.

“Music is the most powerful sound there is, often inappropriately deployed. It’s powerful for two reasons: you recognise it fast and you associate it very powerfully.”

Julian Treasure of The Sound Agency http://www.thesoundagency.com/ (quoted from his TED talk on how sound affects us), tells us that productivity can be massively increased by the correct and thoughtful use of music or just the removal of the open plan office idea. He illustrates the power of music. A couple of bars of the theme music from Jaws is instantly recognisable but the second example is the first chord from A Hard Days Night – a Beatles Classic. You need to have a particular date of birth to get it without thinking.

Nina Jackson, a distinguished and well known education consultant, has drawn together her love of music and extensive research in her book ‘The Little Book of Music for The Classroom’ (available here http://www.crownhouse.co.uk/publications/product.php?product=365 ). So you can take a classroom situation and enhance it, flip it, break it and jazz it up in a number of subtle or less discrete ways.

The Wellcome Trust in the UK have also brought together a number of thoughts about the benefits of music on health and wellbeing. It’s not just the Mozart Effect you know. Take some time to find out about the cows and milk production. Professor Adrian North did and he swears by it. I have added some links to studies by scholars and esteemed Professor Susan Hallam of the Institute of Education on how music, behaviour and progress are all linked. It’s the very nature of the subjectivity and the cognitive functions of the brain that we haven’t quite got to grips with but with every new study that uses MRI and CT technology we can get a glimpse of what’s going on up there.

“Do cows produce more milk with Mozart or The Rolling Stones?”

I am constantly on the lookout for new music to use in the classroom. I stumbled across ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ by Aaron Copland and the London Symphony Orchestra. No pressure but what a great way to introduce a new speaker to a classroom or start a class assembly. And there’s only one volume setting for this track: Loud. Throw in a bit of the Radetzky March Opus 228 by Strauss performed by the Winer Philharmoniker and you’ve got quite a show.

I’ll reveal some great ways to use music in the classroom in some moreMusic4Learning episodes but if you can’t wait then take a look at I Can Teachhttp://www.icanteach.co.uk where there are plenty of ideas. Links to the research I mentioned are below. Feel free to add your ideas in to the comments below and share with some of your colleagues.

Wellcome Trust: The Big Picture – Music and Health http://www.icanteach.co.uk/_resources/Wellcome_Trust_Big_Picture_Music_Mind_and_Medicine.pdf

The effects of background music on health and wellbeing http://www.icanteach.co.uk/open-resource/resource-id=214

Five Studies on the Effects of Music on Behaviour http://www.icanteach.co.uk/open-resource/resource-id=215

Animations for teachers

Having watched a number of animations over the years that have been of the ‘doodle while I talk’ style, I thought I would share some of the good ones I have seen and the types of site that might help you make your own. My favourites tend to come form the RSA animate series https://www.thersa.org/discover/videos/rsa-animate/ where über eloquence is blended into fast hand drawing on a whiteboard. It’s incredibly engaging and quite mesmerising and you find yourself watching bits again because you were concentrating on the drawing instead of the listening. The first one is Dan Pink – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc There is much insight into this well thumbed/clicked talk given by Dan Pink. The animation highlights key aspects and pulls it all together nicely. The second one is Sir Ken (Robinson) – brackets because everyone’s heard of Sir Ken haven’t they. He packed out the BETT 2015 Arena in January this year. Standing room only. His talk about Shifting Paradigms is a succinct look at how our current system is fundamentally flawed, needless and economically unsound. The animation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U is here. The most recent one to cross my twitter feed (@ICanTeach_Uk) was David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet) with a ‘promoted’ look at leadership. His feed showed an animation (again) to accompany an excerpt from a book called Turn the ship around about life on a submarine. It suggested that in highly effective organisations, there are leaders at every level. https://t.co/zyC8ZKdKpX Worth a look.

So, in response to my own increased and sustained levels of engagement, I thought I would have a crack. First attempt was a look at how Causeway School in Eastbourne could involve all stakeholders in a process of digitalisation – taking the big steps into the 21st Century of digital learning and embedding technology fully into a forward thinking school. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljwIRw1tul0 The idea of involving students in their creation opens all sorts of possibilities – short snippets of eloquence joined together and animated. Suddenly revision got interesting. Learning times tables gets easier because the visual stimulation multiplies any impact the ears might provide by ten times. Learning pronunciation in Spanish, French or Mandarin switches from monotone to full technicolour. Telling the story of the rise of Hitler or the fall of the Roman Empire can be created, nurtured and retold in a hundred different ways depending on the storyteller and the animator. My favourite site for doing this was VideoScribe http://www.videoscribe.co/ There is a basic package and a pretty reasonable subscription pricing scheme for teachers and class groups. There others available but I tried to set them up and the time taken to ‘have a play’ and come up with something half decent was beyond viable certainly in terms of sanity. So try it. You can record a voice of your own or take some else’s using http://keepvid.com/ and keeping the audio. You can use songs, speeches, stories and much more. Then animate for your life.